Nine Mile Canyon, Utah

Date posted: January 2013

Background

Located in a remote part of Utah, Nine Mile Canyon is often called "the world's longest art gallery," as it contains more than 10,000 images carved and painted onto canyon walls by Native Americans. It is also home to numerous archeological sites, including pit houses, granaries, and village locations. Natural gas reserves are present in Nine Mile and on the adjoining West Tavaputs Plateau, where drilling was increasing in the early 2000s. The National Trust became concerned that new drilling, increased traffic, and industrialization of the landscape associated with growing energy development were having negative effects on important cultural resources. In particular, dust and potentially harmful chemicals were being deposited on ancient rock art by oil and gas traffic that used the canyon’s dirt roads. Infrastructure associated with natural gas development – compressor stations, pipelines, and staging areas – was also changing the canyon’s landscape setting.

Opportunity

Working with preservation partners, industry, local governments and the Bureau of Land Management, develop a plan to accommodate both oil and gas development and the protection of cultural resource sites in the canyon.

By the numbers

  • 20 diverse groups participated in negotiations to protect sites in the canyon
  • 230 new sites in the canyon listed in the National Register of Historic Places

Resolution

Through the review process required by Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), federal agencies, including the BLM, are required to take into account the effects that projects such as oil and gas development can have on cultural resources and consult with stakeholder about ways to avoid, minimize or mitigate any adverse effects. Through the Section 106 process, the National Trust and many other groups participated in year-long negotiations about the impacts the West Tavaputs Gas Field Development Project could have on significant sites in and around Nine Mile Canyon. The outcome of these negotiations was documented in an NHPA Programmatic Agreement (PA) that was signed in 2010. In short, the agreement calls for more archaeological surveys, National Register nominations for sites in the canyon, development of conservation treatments for rock art impacted by dust, continuing research into the effects of dust on rock art, and development of visitor interpretation sites in the canyon.

In the years since the agreement was signed, much of the road through Nine Mile Canyon has been paved, eliminating problems stemming from dust. Additionally, the requirements of the PA are gradually being implemented. We will continue to monitor its implementation and hope that it will serve as a model for other BLM projects in the future.

Key takeaways

  • The National Trust’s involvement spanned more than 10 years. Complex projects and negotiations require a long-term organizational commitment of time and resources.
  • Achieving consensus between 20 distinct groups, each with their own objectives, was aided by in-person regular meetings, where people got to know each other and better understood all points of view.
  • Aspire to develop agreements that may be used as models for future projects.
  • Visit the place together. Site visits to Nine Mile helped to develop a shared view about the importance of cultural resources and made ideas – such as the importance of the canyon’s landscape - that could have been abstract, very tangible

Photo (Top): Nine Mile Canyon landscape
Credit: Amy Cole

Contact

Have questions about this case study? Looking for others like it? Contact Preservation Leadership Forum, forum@savingplaces.org.